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Was it love at first sight? Is that possible?

by eharmony Editorial Team - November 22, 2023

 Ah, love at first sight. It’s the driving force behind any number of movies, TV shows, romance novels, and even reality TV series. And it’s not hard to understand why; even if you aren’t a die-hard romantic, there’s something special about the idea that you can actually fall in love at first sight. In fact, we’re pretty sure nearly everyone has a story of a friend or family member who knew it was meant to be right from the very beginning. But all of that said… does falling in love the first time you see someone really have any basis in scientific fact?

Love at first sight: What the scientists say

Good news for anyone who dreams of the day that you meet someone and you just know they’re the One… Science is on your side.

It involves your brain and your heart

In a 2015 study1 done by neuroscientist Stephanie Cacioppo and her team, researchers found that love actually does involve your head – your brain, specifically – as well as your heart. Twelve different areas of the brain work together to release the cocktail of chemicals and hormones that give us that dizzy, euphoric ‘crazy in love’ feeling of love at first sight. All of this happens in fractions of a second, so it’s no wonder you feel like it’s something that happens the moment you lay eyes on someone – your brain is a fast worker! For the physical symptoms of love at first sight like the feeling of butterflies in your stomach, your brain is responsible for that, too. When you meet someone you’re attracted to, your brain steps up the production of adrenaline and cortisol, which leads to the aforementioned sweaty palms and so on. While technically classified as a stress response, it’s your body’s not-so-subtle way of telling you to consider swiping right.

It’s called a positive illusion

That said, a 2017 study2 by researchers at the University of Groningen in the Netherlands suggests that love at first sight may actually be what’s called a ‘positive illusion’ – that is, happy couples looking back at their first meeting might attribute more emotion than really existed in the moment, now that they have the benefit of hindsight. This is related to a phenomenon called confirmation bias, which is a tendency to remember and interpret information in a way that strengthens one’s pre-existing beliefs. You feel a certain way about someone now, of course the feelings had to be there when you first met, because there’s no way you wouldn’t know… right?

It’s a powerful cultural phenomenon

Either way, it can’t be denied that love at first sight is a powerful cultural phenomenon – according to a 2017 survey3 featured in Harper’s Bazaar, 61% of women and 72% of men believe that it is indeed possible to fall in love at first sight, so who knows? Just believing in it may be enough for it to happen to you.

But what exactly is love at first sight? 

The concept and idea behind love at first sight seems pretty self-explanatory but there’s still that logical part of your brain that’s wondering, what’s really at play here? Is it actual love, infatuation or just lust? Was this moment always fated to be or is your imagination running wild?

The bitter truth of the situation is that it’s more infatuation than real love. Think about it, what is love? Real love is a three-dimensional concept. It’s not just meeting eyes and feeling a spark but rather beyond attraction to the deeper aspects of relationships like what type of person they are, the experiences and the history you two share. It’s about the gradual development of trust and intimacy between two people as you begin to share more of your lives with each other. And most crucially, it’s about a deeper notion of compatibility. Love is something that’s built. 

Love at first sight can still feel pretty intoxicating and difficult to resist. And who’s not to say that all of those ingredients aren’t already in place when you two feel that deeply fatalistic connection when you first see each other? Just try to be cautious in your expectations so you’re not disappointed, still maintain a healthy pace and boundaries in your dating process and try to stay present in the relationship rather than some idealized version of it.

5 Signs you’ve fallen in love at first sight

Now that we’ve answered the most important question – does love at first sight exist? – it’s time to talk about what love at first sight looks like in real life. There are some signs, both physical and emotional, and often very obvious ones. A few you should keep an eye out for:

1. Your Body Reacts

It’s not just your brain that kicks into high gear when you meet someone special – sweaty palms, a racing heart, the feeling of butterflies in your stomach – all of these are signs you might have fallen in love at first sight.

2. You Want To Know Everything About Them

Sure, physical attraction is a big part of this kind of love. But that doesn’t mean there’s not an emotional component as well. You don’t just want to be with them, you want to know them. Their histories, their childhoods, their likes and dislikes. No matter how small or insignificant the detail, if it’s about them, you’re eager for any and every scrap of information you can lay your hands on.

3. You Can’t Stop Thinking About Them

Regardless of where you are or who you’re with, the object of your affection keeps popping into your mind. Watching a movie? You wonder what they’d think of the plot. Out for a run? You imagine the two of you working out together. Even something as mundane as getting the groceries is enough to trigger dreams of true love in the produce aisle.

4. You Feel Like You’ve Know Each Other a Long Time

A funny thing happens when you fall in love at first sight – the other person feels much more familiar to you than they might otherwise. Part of why is that your brain consciously and subconsciously looks to find points of commonality, whether it’s a favorite actor or a similar life philosophy. Opposites may attract in the movies, but when it comes to real life, we unconsciously look for partners we’re in sync with, whether in big things or small.

5. It Feels Like There’s Nobody Else in the World

Brad Pitt or Taylor Swift might be right next to you and wanting to chat, but they might as well not exist if the object of your affection is also around. Because when it’s love at first sight, you’re so focused on the other person you don’t actually register anything – or anyone – else.

5 Tips to Get from Initial Attraction to an Actual Relationship

While that initial lightning bolt might feel like it’s completely upended your life, it is, in the end, only the first step in a hopefully long and happy journey. Some things you can do to go from falling in love with that special someone to being in a relationship with them:

1. Decide Whether You Want to be in a Relationship

While your body might be telling you ‘Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!’ that doesn’t mean it’s actually a good idea. Ignore the pheromones for a moment and evaluate whether you’re in a good place to have a relationship before taking the plunge.

2. Get in Touch

While we might wish for other people to be able to read our minds, that’s sadly not possible just yet. Which means that if you want that first date, you’re going to actually have to talk to him or her. This doesn’t have to be in person; sending a text or a message on social media works just as well!

3. Spend Time with Them

If straight up asking feels too intimidating, a good first step is finding excuses to be around them – perhaps you could take up the same hobby or ask if they want to hang out with friends. It’s a good way to deepen the connection you felt at your first meeting.

4. Making Your Interest Obvious with Body Language

Leaning in, maintaining eye contact, playing with your hair… your body language can be a great way to subtly communicate your feelings for that special someone. Making sure that you’re signaling your openness to a relationship will increase the odds of them actually asking you out.

5. Show them You Care

Like the song says, love is something that we do. You could save them a seat at a concert, or make sure there’s a slice of pie for them at the office party, or simply send a text checking in on them. Your gestures don’t have to be anything grand – instead, choose something simple that tells them you’re aware of them as a person rather than something over-the-top.

Love at First Sight is Just the Beginning

A great one, to be sure, but even after the foundation stone is laid, there’s still the rest of the house to be built. While science does confirm it exists, it also cautions us that there’s a lot more to a successful relationship. Which is where a site like eharmony comes in. Whether or not you believe in love at first sight (or text), eharmony is a great place to find someone to find a lasting connection with.

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